With the installation of self checkout technology by major retailers increasing rapidly I was glad to have an opportunity to touch and play with a unit first hand this week. What I noticed immediately is that purchasing is a lonely and technology driven event. No smile, no chat about the weather, just you and the machine. You and some cold and heartless metal.

While those companies adopting these technologies will spin that they cut costs and the savings mean cheaper product, they dehumanise retail and without human interaction what is retail anyway?

These devices are not progress. They are about retailers telling consumers that they make more money by interacting with them less and that’s bad for society.

Having played with a self checkout unit I see them as an opportunity for small business retailers. By increasing human contact and the quality of that contact we can reinforce the social value of small. We can demonstrate that self checkout is about profits for the big retailers, profits at all costs.

If I were in a situation where a competitor was about to install self checkout I’d have a campaign running already. Hit them hard and long. Machines don’t smile. Machines don’t share anecdotes. Machines don’t follow football. Machines don’t make mistakes. Machines don’t have a family to support. Machines don’t contribute to the social fabric of our society. Machines won’t add value to the business transaction like a cooking tip.

Sure we can codify some of these requirements into technology. I don’t want codified emotion or social interaction. I want human interaction. Otherwise what’s all this for?

Self checkout dehumanises interaction in each store where it is implemented and this affects the community around it.